The original Halo Wars was the last game made by Ensemble Studios and was largely considered as an underground hit. No one had anticipated a sequel, let alone one developed by Creative Assembly. Released 8 years after its predecessor, the result is a game unmistakably familiar, but well-made and engaging; with a combat system that has stood the test of time.
The main story in Halo Wars 2 takes place 28 years after the original and shortly after Halo 5. The game opens with Captain James Cutter and Professor Anders, aboard the Spirit of Fire, attending to a distress signal sent by an AI named Isabel. Upon her rescue, she informs them that her base was destroyed by Atriox, a Brute leader of a group called Banished. The game revolves around how these heroes deal with an unforgiving new threat.
I was pleasantly surprised by the strength of its cast, especially when compared to Halo 4 and 5. The tale of Isabel’s revenge, the backstory of Atriox and how he rose to power as well as Captain Cutter’s calm demeanour; all combine to make a cast worth investing into. It does a wonderful job of setting up these characters and their individual arcs, so much so that I hope the next mainline game continues on with this story.
The Halo Wars 2 campaign consists of 12 missions, with most taking around 20-30 minutes to complete. It took me around 5 hours to finish the game on normal difficulty. The length on its own isn’t an issue but it results in a story that is left incomplete, with no satisfying resolution. While I was interested in what was going on, this game feels like the end of Act 1 of larger tale that will undoubtedly be engaging. In addition, for all the work they put into making these characters believable, almost all of them needed more screen time.
Nevertheless, it’s a highly enjoyable campaign, filled with gorgeous cinematics and some exhilarating sequences. Its design has plenty of variety and the game never becomes boring even if you’re playing multiple missions one after the other. Instead of having one big objective, almost all missions have a multiple phase structure, which prevents it from being dull. There are plenty of bonus and optional objectives you can complete to increase your score and earn gold medals. While it doesn’t bring anything new to the table, it’s a solid campaign even if it doesn’t take any risks.
The gameplay remains largely the same from the original. Your base has multiple spots for your buildings that can be upgraded to further increase their benefits. Supplies and Power form the two primary resources and turrets can be built on the four corners to help defend against enemy attacks. Each unit has a special purchasable ability, such as grenades or a missile barrage, on a cooldown. Your soldiers and vehicles are all strong and weak against specific types of units and thus having a good mix as well as getting the right upgrades is important to achieve victory.
By holding LT players can utilize their leader powers, both active and passive, to help turn the tide of battle. These include restoration fields, ODST and turret drops, holograms, ability to teleport units and many more. All powers can be upgraded and cost resources to invoke.
You will not find a large amount of depth for competitive play, but Halo Wars excels at bringing a more streamlined version of the RTS genre to a console. Mixing together different types of units, proper resource management, selecting the right type soldier for the right encounter and so on; all work exceptionally well on a controller. Everything is well laid-out and easy to use no matter what you want the game to perform. Switching bases, unit clusters and utilizing your other shortcuts all felt natural. I did not encounter any problems with the AI except for a couple of pathfinding issues on specific campaign maps.
The two factions available are a bit too similar and those looking for a lot of variety in gameplay with tons of options will be disappointed. The multiplayer offerings are otherwise fairly standard. There are 6 leaders to choose from (more counting DLC leaders), three for each faction, with their own unique powers. The game launches with 8 maps along with 3 game modes –Deathmatch, Domination and Stronghold. While playing Domination players must capture and hold control points whereas in Stronghold they are required to build and hold mini-bases. In this mode everyone has unlimited resources and the player with the most Strongholds at the end of the game wins.
The game’s big new feature is Blitz mode, their own version of a collectible-card game where you open packs, build decks with units and powers and unleash them on the battlefield. Played on only one map, players are required to fight over control of 3 small zones. You will only earn points if you control more than the opponent. So for example if each player controls one, no one gets any points. The goal is to be the first player to earn 200 points. Players earn energy by destroying canisters that are located all around. This can be used to summon units and to use powers from 4 available cards. Upon using a card, it will be replaced by a random one from your deck.
I found Blitz mode to be frantic and rewarding but ultimately forgettable. It is better used as palate cleanser between gruelling matches than your main multiplayer mode. The complete removal of base building and overdependence on luck of the draw doesn’t interest me.
If you were looking for an ambitious sequel that consistently builds upon the foundation set by the first one, Halo Wars 2 is not that game. What you will get is a smartly designed campaign and a more engaging cast than the two mainline Halo games that precede it. It almost feels like a reintroduction of the series, and a promise that Halo Wars is here to stay. For both good and bad reasons, when I finished Halo Wars 2 I was left wanting more.
A strong cast and story setup which forms a solid backbone for future games
The same streamlined gameplay but just as fun
Campaign never feels dull and has good mission variety
Short campaign which basically marks the end of Act 1
Characters feel underutilized
Needs more units and abilities or even factions to support more diverse playing styles in competitive mode
- Creative Assembly